Saturday, February 04, 2006

A future of no accents

Immigrants to America face a seemingly endless array of obstacles, particularly racial and ethnic discrimination. But a Republican legislator from Washington state named Pam Roach has happened upon come upon a novel way for those folks to avoid a lot of that nasty discrimination:

Get rid of their accents.

At least, that's what she told a visiting delegation of Asian American citizens. It all came out when she tried to explain why she was sponsoring onerous voting-registration legislation that appeared aimed at immigrants and minorities:
After explaining to us that SB 6499 was essentially going nowhere, she assured the group that her concern in such legislation was making sure it was valid citizens who voted in elections. After the 2004 Washington Governor's race, there was a lot of activity in Olympia involving voter verification.

Maxine Chan explained that there already existed specific social and logistical barriers to immigrant and minority voters, and additional bureaucracy could disproportionately affect that group. She also mentioned the language barrier, which often resulted in discrimination and difficulty at polling places.

That was when the whole thing turned into a bad horror film.

Senator Roach responded by saying she was sympathetic with the whole language barrier, and that no one should be discriminated against at the polls. She went on to explain that she was an advocate of early English proficiency education, particularly for immigrant children so that they might grow up accent free. She spoke of a future of no accents, which would alleviate a host of problems.

By shedding foreign sounding accents, she thought people would face less discrimination. It was in their best interest.

She then turned to Franklin Yi, a Korean immigrant whom she knew as a constituent, and pointed out his foreign accent. However, she jokingly vouched for Franklin, because she knew him.

You see, in Republicanland, the immigrants and their accents and all that foreign culture they bring here ... they're the problem. Especially the accents. No wonder people discriminate against them!

No wonder they call her La Cucaracha down in Olympia. Without an accent, of course.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Some thoughts on blogging

At some point last Saturday, Orcinus had its three millionth visitor. Considering that I've been at this only a little over three years now, that's a pretty mind-boggling thing. I'm simultaneously flattered and flabbergasted.

I started blogging back in January 2003 for several reasons. Some of them were personal: I was an editorialist at many stops in my professional career, and blogging offered a way to satisfy that particular kind of writing urge. Some of them were professional: I thought the blog would be a good way to build an audience for my work; and in that regard, it's been a big success.

But most of all I was motivated to blog because I recognized a real information gap in much of what was available through mainstream media, especially regarding stories that I believed were of real significance to understanding our national political and cultural scene.

A lot of that recognition stemmed from years of working in mainstream newsrooms as both an editor and reporter. Nearly all of us who have been there know that there are gaps in what we cover, much of it out of the necessities of simply doing our daily jobs of getting basic information out to the public. In many regards, those gaps tended to reflect the priorities created by our superiors, whose perspectives on what was important often were at wide variance with those of the people doing the work on the ground.

Much of this occurred in an environment in which, beginning in the late 1970s and accelerating in the '80s and '90s, corporatization was transforming the media. Small and large community newspapers and TV stations, independently owned, were being snapped up by big chains, who demanded 15 percent annual profits or higher from their new properties. At small outlets, this transformed news operations into skeleton crews scarcely capable of covering cops, courts, and city hall.

Larger papers and stations similarly had to scale back to meet profit demands, which in the initial stages meant that consumer and investigative reporting were the first sacrifices to the budget gods. In the latter stages, newsgathering capacity, particularly on bigger issues, became almost as limited as that seen at smaller papers.

This meant that not only was there less journalism specifically aimed at the public's well-being, but what had once been a relatively robust pool providing a real diversity of journalistic voices was shrunken dramatically. The larger effect was that there were a lot of stories that went uncovered -- information that was not making its way to the surface.

Similarly, the kinds of publishers, editors, and station managers we saw being promoted to leadership positions were no longer diverse, nor (even more significantly) nearly so idealistic. Typically they were bottom-line oriented people and conservative, both journalistically and politically. People who saw eye-to-eye with the conservative bosses who predominated at the tops of the chains.

My own experience of the chain newspaper business was that there was a real "yes man" mentality that drove the newsrooms. The bosses became more preoccupied with meeting corporate goals than with producing good journalism.

Editors in particular played a crucial role in this, because editors directly affect not only how stories are covered, but which stories are covered. Traditionally, they also have acted as filters for bad information. And as long as there was diversity in the ranks of editors, they performed this function well.

But by the early 1990s, with diversity lessened and career tracks clearly geared for conservative yes-men, it became clear to me then that the "filtering" function of the mainstream media had become increasingly a bottleneck for information -- which was creating a real demand for the information the media failed to consistently report or emphasize.

There's a reality about this that I think most people in the mainstream media find upsetting: Information -- particularly good information, which is to say, it has factual integrity and real significance -- wants to get out; it creates its own demand for dissemination. If it's suppressed or ignored, in a democratic system, it will still find its way to the surface.

Blogging, in this sense, represents a kind of market response (that is, in the market of ideas) to the demand created by the information that wants to be disseminated. It's a way for information to get around the bottleneck. Obviously, this is as true for people on the right as for those on the left.

So really, blogs are just another communications medium, a way for information to be transmitted. Like any other medium, it has great potential for both bettering and worsening the national discourse.

What's special about blogs is their egalitarian nature: anybody can be a blogger. It represents a kind of democratization of the dissemination of information.

This is, I think, profoundly disorienting to traditional journalists, because it means their old model of the way communications is supposed to work has been upset. As Lance Mannion put it last summer:
The fact is that "real journalists" like Cohen have stopped seeing themselves as helping citizens take part in the running of their own government. They see themselves as being part of a decision-making process that actually excludes citizens.

It is not the business of readers---that is citizens---to question what is in the papers and on TV. It is their place to accept what the old media types tell them.

The old media types want to be the last word.

Blogging bothers them because its existence and growing popularity proves that the old media don't have the last word.

They never had it.

There is no last word. The debate is forever. As long as we live in a democracy, there will be no last word, nobody gets the final say.

The problem for "traditional" journalists is that the entire communications model upon which modern mass media has been predicated is rapidly becoming outdated, rendered obsolete by the open nature of the Internet. The model itself was founded in early 20th-century communications studies, in particular the work of the pioneering communications theorists Harold Lasswell and Walter Lippmann. It was Laswell and Lippmann, for instance, who gave us the standard adage taught in every journalism school, representing the basis of all mass communications: "Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect."

But the worldview under which Laswell and Lippmann formed their theories was also profoundly elitist in nature. Christopher Simpson, in his 1996 study Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960, explained this in detail:
Lippmann and Lasswell articulated a very narrow vision that substituted, for communication as such, one manifestation of communication that is particularly pronounced in hierarchical industrial states. Put most bluntly, they contended that communication's essence was its utility as an instrument for imposing one's will on others, and preferably on masses of others. This instrumentalist conception of communication was consistent with their experience of war and with emerging mass communication technologies of the day, which in turn reflected and to an extent embodied the existing social order.

This view of communication as domination has in fact become a central component of communications theory in American academia, and has become woven into the very fabric of modern consumer society. As Simpson explains [p. 20]:
The mainstream paradigm of communication studies in the United States -- its techniques, body of knowledge, institutional structure, and so on -- evolved symbiotically with modern consumer society generally, and particularly with media industries and those segments of the economy most dependent on mass markets. Communication research in America has historically proved itself by going beyond simply observing media behavior to finding ways to grease the skids for absorption and suppression of rival visions of communication and social order.

Clearly, social communication necessarily involves a balancing of conflicting forces. A "community", after all, cannot exist without some form of social order; or, put another way, order defines the possible means of sharing burdens. Lasswell and Lippmann, however, advocated not just order in an abstract sense, but rather a particular social order in the United States and the world in which forceful elites necessarily ruled in the interests of their vision of the greater good. U.S.-style consumer democracy was simply a relatively benign system for engineering mass consent for the elites' authority; it could be dispensed with then ordinary people reached the "wrong" conclusions. Lasswell writes that the spread of literacy

did not release the masses from ignorance and superstition but altered the nature of both and compelled the development of a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda ... [A propagandist's] regard for men rests on no democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judge of their own interests. The modern propagandist, like the modern psychologist, recognizes that men are often poor judges of their own interests ... [Those with power must cultivate] senstiveness to those concentrations of motive which are implicit and available for rapid mobilization when the appropriate symbol is offered ... [The propagandist is] no phrasemonger but a promoter of overt acts.

This top-down, elitist view of the role of communication as a means to control and dominate the masses was at the core of the development of modern mass media, and remains the operative model at work in the corporate "mainstream media." Most working journalists operate under its predicates, and news-operation leaders -- editors, publishers, news directors and station managers -- absolutely depend upon it. Blogs, which are much closer to a "person to person" model of communication than the Lippmann/Lasswell version, are profoundly disorienting to such professionals.

However, bloggers are not journalists, in the professional-craft sense, despite various claims to such status by some bloggers. At times, they may actually engage in reporting work (Josh Marshall particularly comes to mind), but this is something of a rarity. Besides, we bloggers who are journalists too know that it essentially represents a kind of publishing without an editor -- which is both part of the pleasure of it (I certainly can't imagine any editor ever approving any of my disquisitions on fascism) and its danger (I think regular readers of my verbose posts would tell you I could use a good editor; and then there are the mistakes that are inevitable when you work without a backstop).

Actually, the function in the old communications model that bloggers come closest to replicating is that of the editor -- not in the sense of being an overseer of writing and reportorial quality, but in setting priorities: deciding which stories are important and deserve greater attention, ascertaining which stories are reported upon.

A good blogger is not so much a journalist as a good editor (and remember, most editors are writers too). A blog is thus a kind of publication, and it attracts readers according to the quality of insight its editor brings to it.

But instead of a situation where increasingly we had only a handful of carefully selected editors who worked their way up the ranks by remaining loyal corporate yes-men, now anyone with a good news sense and a way with words can influence the course of our discourse. The Internet has shattered the old bottleneck. It has democratized how information flows in modern society.

Now, as a longtime mainstream-media editor myself, I was also acutely aware of the holes in coverage provided by corporate news. So blogging, in essence, gave me the opportunity to fill those gaps in a small way by creating an outlet, as it were, for reporting on the subjects that I have long felt are important and overlooked by mainstream media. It gave me the opportunity to be my own editor, prioritizing stories by my own standards, and opening the way for reportage and analysis I'd never be able to do in a mainstream organ.

Obviously, the role of right-wing extremism in modern American politics, in my opinion, is one of those continuing stories that is consistently underreported by the corporate media, for a complex panoply of reasons. I also happen to be well networked in obtaining information on the subject. So naturally, Orcinus has tended to focus on being an outlet for that information.

Along the way, I've tried to write about other stories that have gone similarly ignored by the corporate media: George W. Bush's military record, the mendacity of right-wing pundits, the virulent eliminationism of so much right-wing rhetoric (though obviously this latter is at least somewhat related to the main subject), the assault on the environment by the corporate right, and, of course, killer whales.

But maintaining a blog for three years does have, as Digby observed a little while ago, something of a Bataan Death March quality to it. I've really only been able to keep it going this long by keeping myself true to my original reasons for blogging in the first place: I use it to work out writing ideas, and to disseminate information that I think is falling through the cracks and needs reporting.

My traffic has tapered off a bit over the past year or so, and I suspect it's because readers find the subject of right-wing extremism and its attendant hatefulness so wearing (I've seen some readers describe it as "depressing"). Certainly, it is wearing to report on it; after more than a decade at it, can't say I enjoy it much. But it remains, I think, important information, and that's why I keep plugging away at it.

In the meantime, you'll have to forgive me if I continue to post unpredictably on various odd topics that may not seem much connected to the far right, but which I also have some background reporting in: orca preservation and environmental issues, immigration issues, the Japanese American internment, maybe even Japanese anime. It's all part of what I do, not to mention that it helps me keep my sanity.

Last year I held a fund-raiser for Orcinus that, while hardly paying for my time investment, was extremely rewarding in showing me how much my regular readers appreciate what I do. Its final tally was just over $3,000, and I heard from a lot of folks, not to mention that I got great links urging contributions from such fine folks as Digby, TBogg, Michael Berube and Jesus' General. Of course, me being the lout that I am, I neglected to thank any of them until now.

So, thanks, everyone. And if you're going to their sites, be sure to toss them a few nickels too.

I'll be running another fund-raiser again this week, but it'll be a little more low-keyed. If you, too, appreciate what I'm doing at Orcinus, and want to support the continued flow of the kind of information I report here, please chip in accordingly. Hit the PayPal button in the upper corner (or, if you need to use snail mail, send it to me at P.O. Box 17872, Seattle WA 98107).

Think of it as a kind of open subscription -- and I'm your humble editor.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fear itself

[From Tom Tomorrow]

When he was introducing me at some of my talks in the Riverside area of Southern California last week, my friend Louis Vandenberg used a line that stuck with me:
"Hate, at its core, is the product of fear."

I'm sure I've heard formulations like this before, but it had a special resonance for me in part because I had been spending much of that weekend rehashing the Japanese American internment as part of my appearance at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where I gave a talk on Jan. 21.

The museum's main pavilion, if you haven't been there, is well worth a visit. The architect was Gyo Obata, who also created the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum; as you might expect, it is a building filled with light. It is also quite consciously American.

The permanent exhibit is also worth touring, especially as an antidote for the revisionists prone to glossing over the real history of Japanese Americans.

Because so much of that history is riddled with fear -- an irrational distrust of the Japanese "Others" who came to our shores in large numbers between 1890 and 1924, a fear that was fanned by white-supremacist ideology and wild-eyed conspiracy theories that forever characterized these immigrants as the "Yellow Peril."

Eventually, that fear erupted into outright hatred after Pearl Harbor, and the result was perhaps inevitable:

This event is all the more remarkable for having occurred under the aegeis of the president who announced, in his inaugural address:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Yet Roosevelt himself, as we've seen, was prone to believing many of the same fear-driven stereotypes of Japanese immigrants promulgated by the haters. That bigotry translated, during a time of great national trauma -- when fear of the Japanese was being whipped into outright hysteria -- into his own failure to distinguish between Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans in signing Executive Order 9066, which in the end became a great blot on his record as president.

It was also a clear failure on FDR's part to live up to his own admonishment. Obviously, refusing to succumb to "fear itself" is easier said than done.

Yet I have often thought that, in today's post-9/11 environment, progressives would do well to arm themselves with FDR's old slogan. What better rebuke to the Bush administration -- and the conservative movement that, as Tom Tomorrow's cartoon beautifully illustrates, is nowadays positively driven by fearmongering?

After a steady diet of:
"9/11!" "9/11!" "Be afraid. Be very afraid." "Bin Laden! Bin Laden!" "Boogadah boogadah!"

I can think of no better reply than this:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Keeping our heads about ourselves in this environment is absolutely essential for the nation to win. The American right's fearmongering and divisiveness is thus exactly the worst thing for the country.

It doesn't hurt to remind people that the right's fearmongering isn't an accident, either. It is, in fact, part of a political marketing campaign that cynically uses the threat of terrorism as a wedge issue:
Think, if you will, about the different kinds of terror at work here. The war against international terror plays out on a global stage, and as it's been waged so far by this administration, in remote and exotic locales. When Bush invokes the "war on terror," it revolves around images of Arab fanatics and desert combat. It's far removed from our daily realities -- except, of course, for the coffins coming home on military transports, images of which are forbidden to the press.

This is a peculiar, amorphous terror to which we as individuals feel only remotely or vaguely connected. The attacks of Sept. 11 are raised to remind us it can strike here, but the source of the terror is something that seems distant and disattached to us. The less concrete it is, the more vague the potential response. Thus Saddam Hussein can be conflated with Osama bin Laden as a threat to America and an entire war campaign constructed around his role in "the war on terror," though it is becoming increasingly clear he had little if any role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

This is a highly marketable kind of terrorism, in the sense that its potential threat can be invoked at any time to justify an entire panoply of political moves, as well as to impugn the patriotism of your opponents. This sort of "war on terror" doesn't require any real sacrifices on the part of the public -- unless, of course, you happen to draw the unlucky Gold Star -- but being on the Right Side is easy, since the Enemy is The Other. He isn't The Guy Next Door.

This makes "the war on terror" into anything but an effective response to the threat:
The key to winning any war, whether amorphous, cold, or real, is contingent on one's ability to objectively assess the facts on the ground. When your assessments are constantly twisted by politics, ideology, and public relations, you lose that ability. The Bush "war on terror" is doomed to fail because it has made itself ideologically incapable of recognizing the real nature of terrorism itself.

The result has been a "war on terror" that is recognizably a sham.

... The liberal response can't just be different: It has to be effective. It has be based on a rational consideration of the facts on the ground and must jettison ideological blinkers of all kinds. Most of all, it has to take a realistic measure of the actual nature of terrorism.

The first recognition has to be that terrorism is an asymmetrical threat: that is, unlike conflicts between nations, it involves an attack by a small entity (perhaps only a handful of people) against a large nation. Likewise, the danger terrorist acts represent are outsized compared to the scale of the organization undertaking them.

The essence of terrorism is undermining citizens' sense of security, their belief that their government is capable of protecting them adequately. As P. Terrence Hopmann explains:

Asymmetrical conflict succeeds by playing on such fears. Terrorism strikes at innocent civilians going about their daily lives. It also flourishes on flexibility and uncertainty. The terrorist has the advantage of choosing the time, place, and means of attack. The targets are mostly symbolic, chosen for maximum psychological impact. The goal is to disrupt the lives of all. In fact, the capacity to instill in ordinary people the fear that they can be attacked anytime and anywhere, while doing just about anything, is the most important weapon terrorists have.

It's important to remember that such threats cannot be dealt with by ordinary military means. Of course, those who commit such horrendous acts of terrorism as those carried out on September 11 must be found and brought to justice, one way or another. But the classic riposte of retaliation against the homeland of the aggressor may not only be meaningless, it may be dangerous, creating additional terrorists who are even more dedicated and self-sacrificing than those who went before. And as long as the terrorists continue to find fertile soil on which to operate anywhere in the world, they will be able to survive, to react flexibly to circumvent whatever security measures the United States and other countries put in place, and to find new means to deliver terror at times and places of their own choosing.

The Bush administration has dealt with terrorism in a classic symmetrical response, sending the military out into action against other nations. But terrorism is not state-based; it floats about the fringes of whatever places it finds a foothold under the various circumstances that inspire it. This is pretty much everywhere, including the United States.

We can also see that, if "the capacity to instill in ordinary people the fear that they can be attacked anytime and anywhere, while doing just about anything, is the most important weapon terrorists have," then the conservative right has been handing them that weapon with great regularity and avidity.

The result, besides an absurd skewing of our domestic priorities, has been to significantly worsen terrorism as a global phenomenon:
The sum of "international" and "domestic" terrorist attacks in 2005 was 3991, up 51 percent from the previous year's figure of 2639. The number of deaths that resulted from those attacks was 6872, which is 36 percent higher than the 5066 that occurred in 2004.

Notably, when the White House was confronted with this information, the official response nearly incoherent:
Well, just look at the facts. If you look at the facts, many of al Qaeda's known leadership have been put out of business. They've been brought to justice. They've either been captured or killed. No longer is America waiting and responding. We're on the offense; we're taking the fight to the enemy. We are engaged in a war on terrorism. The enemies recognize how high the stakes are. And one thing the President will talk about, continue to talk about tomorrow night and in the coming weeks, is that we continue to face a serious threat. This is a deadly and determined enemy. But the difference is now that we've got them on the run, we've got them playing defense, we're taking the fight to them. And all of us in the international community must continue to work together.

We've been fortunate that we haven't been hit again since the attacks of September 11th. And that's in no small part because of the great work of our men and women in uniform abroad, and because of the great work of our intelligence community, and the great work of our homeland security officials here at home who have worked together using vital tools, like the Patriot Act and other tools, to help disrupt plots and disrupt attacks. And there's great progress being made.

But the President made it clear after September 11th that this was going to be a long war, but he's going to continue acting and leading and doing everything in his power to win that war so long as he is in office. And we also have to work to continue to advance freedom. And 2006 was a year of progress when it came to advancing freedom around the world. The Middle East is a dangerous, troubled region, and that's why it's important we continue to support the advance of democracy throughout that region.

That's the Bush administration's "war on terror" in a nutshell: Its "facts" are hodgepodge of feel-good talking points that have little or no relationship to reality. And in case anyone forgot: "9/11!" "9/11!"

As Digby and Glenn Greenwald -- along with Joseph J. Ellis in the New York Times -- have been pointing out, it's especially important to place the real threat of terrorism in its proper perspective.

Is it an existential threat comparable to the fact of a nuclear-armed superpower with its weaponry pointed at us, or a fascist totalitarianism that intended to militarily overrrun the world, and was capable of it? Well, no. It's not even close.

As Al Gore put it recently:
One of the other ways the administration has tried to control the flow of information has been by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest.

President Eisenhower said this: "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote, "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk. Yet in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol?

Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment's notice to completely annihilate the country?

Is America really in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march, when the last generation had to fight and win two world wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did.

And yet they faithfully protected our freedom and now it's up to us to do the very same thing.

It's important to remember that there have been very real sociopolitical consequences to the right's fearmongering as well. One of these, as Louis' formula suggests, is an environment rich in hate.

We hate terrorists. We also hate treasonous liberals, who aid and abet them. And we hate illegal immigrants. We also hate Muslims of any stripe, and Arabs of any stripe. And the French too, just because. Hate, hate, hate. We love to hate.

The result, not surprisingly, is a great and gradual rendering of our national social fabric. Family ties have been severed. Old friendships torn asunder. Community wells poisoned.

Eventually, conservative rule will come to an end, and progressives will have a lot of work to do just repairing the mess that they've made of things. Winning the "war on terror" will just be a start. Repairing the damage from the hate they've fostered ... well, that may take generations.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The orca killers

Just as surely as it made good sense for government scientists to declare an endangered species listing for Puget Sound orcas, you could also predict the reaction from right-wing business interests, who would "inform us sternly that there are plenty of orcas in the world, so this population doesn't really need protecting. And besides, the new restrictions are costing us jobs, and Americans more oil for their SUVs. And a few hundred other phony talking points designed to let the orcas go extinct here."

Sure enough, the battle lines are being drawn along these parameters. Last week, the P-I's Lisa Stiffler reported on the opposition to the listing from exactly the corporate interests expected:
But this month, the Building Industry Association of Washington filed a 60-day notice declaring their intent to sue to the government for that decision.

"It's an unlawful listing," said Tim Harris, an attorney with the group.

The association, which works to limit taxes and regulations, is concerned that making the orcas endangered will result in severe restrictions on the development and use of property on or near the Sound.

The notice states that because there are other orcas in the region -- including Alaska, the Bering Sea and Russia -- the local killer whales don't merit special protection.

"You can almost say any individual school of fish can be listed," Harris said.

This is, of course, nothing but malignant misinformation. The ESA provides protection for distinct populations like the resident Puget Sound orcas. Some quick facts, just to make plain the BIAW's mendacity:
-- The Southern Resident population of killer whales comprises some 90 orcas, divided into three pods, designated J, K, and L. One of these pods, J pod (with 24 members), resides in these waters year-around. The other two pods, K pod (21 members) and L Pod (45 members) spend their winters in open Pacific west of British Columbia.

-- This population is genetically and culturally distinct from the "transient" killer whale population that travels the Pacific Coast from Baja to Alaska, as well as other resident populations in British Columbia and Alaska.

-- The transients in particular are quite distinct: while residents appear to be strictly fish eaters (the vast majority of their diet being salmon), transients appear to be strictly mammal eaters, feasting particularly on seals and sea lions.

-- The languages that residents and transients, respectively, use are so distinct as to scarcely even resemble the other. Likewise, behavioral observation makes clear that the two populations strive to avoid each other

-- Genetic studies have established that there has been no interaction between the two populations for at least 300,000 years, and perhaps longer. The Southern Residents, in fact, are completely isolated genetically.

-- The chief threat to the orcas' survival as a viable population comes from the lack of salmon -- the causes of which center mostly around rampant development and the concomitant destruction of their habitat, particularly the streambeds in which they spawn.

-- Other threats to the orcas also emanate from industrial activity and development, including the toxins that are dribbled steadily into Puget Sound waters. Orcas' bodies are so laden with these toxins that when one dies and washes up on a beach, it has to be treated as a toxic spill and disposed of by an emergency response team.

Facts matter little to organizations like the BIAW. Their ability to ensure that developers have as few restrictions as possible in bringing pavement to every corner of the state is all that counts.

Even if, in the end, every last orca simply vanishes from these waters. If the BIAW has its way, that outcome is not just predictable, it's guaranteed.

It may be a death by a thousand cuts, slow and incremental. But groups like the BIAW are killing orcas just as certainly as someone out hunting them with guns.

The right wing's big gorilla

The Building Industry Association of Washington is an organization that not only is ruthless to the point of consciencelessness, it also has become an extraordinarily significant player in Washington state politics. They are, in fact, one of the most powerful funders of the conservative movement's agenda here.

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they also boast a history of dalliances with (and underwriting of) right-wing extremism, particularly the Patriot/militia movement of the 1990s.

The BIAW was perhaps best noted in the 2004 election for underwriting and driving the gubernatorial campaign of Republican nominee Dino Rossi, and was one of the chief financiers of his misbegotten challenge to the election of Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire.

They're also gearing up to run Rossi against Gregoire again in 2008. Some enterprising reporter should, between now and then, ask Rossi where he stands on orca preservation.

Meanwhile, as David Goldstein pointed out, the BIAW also heavily financed the eventually successful campaign of an industry lawyer and lobbyist named Jim Johnson to win election to the state Supreme Court.

With that win under their belt, the BIAW plans to finance a slate of candidates for next year's Washington State Supreme Court races -- a plan that could place the court essentially in their pocket. Already, there's a great deal of concern over this development and its ramifications for the historical independence of the Supreme Court, since the course for any justices elected this way is fraught with real conflicts of interest.

If you want a look at what the future holds as far as BIAW-backed candidates go, take a gander at Stephen Johnson, who has already announced his candidacy.

It's especially worth noting that a source of the BIAW's revenue stream -- and thus of their power -- is their bellying up to the taxpayer trough via a municipal employees' industrial insurance fund that they operate.

A dark history

If you go back even farther, though, you can find an even darker side to the BIAW. As Jay Taber at Skookumgeoduck has explained at some length, the BIAW has been involved in some of the ugliest political organizing in Washington state, including the formation of militias back in the early 1990s.

During this time, Taber also worked with my old friend Paul deArmond, who compiled an exhaustive record of this activity at his Public Good Special Reports site. DeArmond was recording in detail many of the same events I was observing and reporting on as a newspaper reporter back then.

What we saw happening was, in response to the state's passage of a Growth Management Act in 1990, a bevy of so-called "grass-roots" reactionary movements who were actually being underwritten and organized by a network of industry organizations, with the BIAW in a lead role. These movements ran the gamut from "property rights" groups to county-secession efforts to antitax agitation to anti-New World Order militia organizing, all under the larger umbrella of "Wise Use."

Samantha Sanchez in The American Prospect described how these dynamics played a key role in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994:
When one environmental group, 1000 Friends of Washington, finally succeeded in putting a land-use measure on the ballot in 1990, the developers met the challenge. An alliance of corporate interests--not just timber companies but also such corporations as Boeing, Darigold, and U.S. West--spent nearly $1.8 million on advertising and grassroots organizing to block the measure, which promised to affect both real estate and logging. Groups such as the Washington Contract Loggers Association organized rallies of angry timber workers; the American Pulpwood Association provided public speaking and lobbying training to potential activists. Meanwhile, the development interests poured more than $2.5 million into the campaign coffers of state legislature candidates; nearly 70 percent of that money went to eventual winners and much of it was directed at a group of 20 candidates particularly friendly to industry.

The industry coalition won their initiative fight, but ironically their failure to dislodge a Democratic legislature gave the environmentalists an opportunity to achieve through legislation what they could not through the ballot measure. Sure enough, the legislature adopted a growth management act while defeating four property rights bills--three dealing with wetlands and one takings measure--that had strong industry backing.

But the story does not end there. Heavy lobbying had already neutered some of the act's more ambitious provisions anyway: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that developer pressure frightened the legislature into cutting $4.5 million from the program's funding and stripping some key provisions. Now, the industry groups concentrated on organizing at the county level, where the planning would actually take place. Organizations such as the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance began to crop up and make their presence known at local meetings. The Snohomish group billed itself as "a grassroots group concerned about environmental regulation" while taking money from construction interests, such as the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. Jim Klauser, the director of Seattle Master Builders, became the alliance's director.

Klauser is the chief figure in this activity; until recently he remained associated with the BIAW by sitting on its Legal Trust Committee. Klauser ran one of the BIAW's major subgroups, the Master Builders Association of King County, and the Snohomish County office of the BIAW just north of Seattle.

He also founded an organization called the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance, which became a front for militia organizing and other far-right activity, which deArmond describes thus:
The next property-rights group to appear was the Snohomish County Property Rights Alliance, known as SNOCO PRA. In the summer of 1990, Jeannette Burrage of the Northwest Legal Foundation represented them in an assault on a Snohomish critical areas ordinance. The standard Wise Use strategy for preserving developers' subsidies and tax advantages: protest, lawsuit, referendum, lawsuit, election, lawsuit. SNOCO PRA hired Terre Harris as a political consultant to run a referendum campaign to take most of the starch out of the ordinance. By October 1990, Harris announced that SNOCO PRA had enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. A complex series of legal maneuvers began that would ultimately lead to Snohomish County suing the PRA members over the referendum campaign, a lawsuit which would not be settled by the Supreme Court until January 27, 1994.24,28

SNOCO PRA's executive director, Jim Klauser, had two interesting connections. First of all, he was on the board of the Northwest Legal Foundation. Secondly, like Harris, he had been an official with the Master Builders Association, their president.

A March 4, 1993 letter from Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (associated with National Assn. of Home Builders) stated that "While we have worked within the governmental process, we have also supported the formation and development of a strong property rights movement in Snohomish County. We've provided major funding to these efforts, which are more sophisticated than any other county in Washington. ...The county wide policies themselves, later this spring, may be the subject of a referendum campaign. This depends on the outcome of litigation between county elected officials and citizens who have filed a referendum to repeal the policies." The letter is signed by Mike Echelbarger, MBA President and Rick Lennon, MBA First Vice President. Klauser's later activities with the Washington Property Rights Network would underscore the important role of the development industry in creating the property rights organizations in Puget Sound.

One of SNOCO PRA's leaders was a fellow named Ben Sams, who organized an "anti-New World Order" militia meeting in Maltby, Wash. The keynote speaker at the meeting was a fellow from the Militia of Montana named Bob Fletcher, who displayed maps describing a planned United Nations takeover of the northern Cascades region. [It was in fact the first militia meeting I ever attended; I describe it a bit more here.]

As Paul recalled in an e-mail:
The dynamics were like this:

1) The GMA triggered a backlash because county governments had to pass critical areas ordinances. Klauser starts a "property rights" group -- Snohomish Co Property Rights Alliance. This is a spinoff of a previous "umbrella" group called the Washington Property Rights Network. WPRN has Arnold's fingerprints all over it, but I was never able to get specific proof of his involvment except through Klauser.

2) Klauser sent out a letter to the MBA claiming credit for setting up property rights front groups -- this being the most damning evidence of BIA involvement and clearly establishing all the the "property rights" groups as fronts.

3) The property rights groups got exposed to the Catron strategy of local sovereignty through the National Federal Lands Conference (Ron Arnold is one of their board of advisors). The NFLC had all sorts of tenuous links to [the racist and anti-Semitic] Posse Comitatus -- mostly because they were all birds of the same Far Right feather in the Southwest. Some of these connect back directly to William Potter Gale and his Committee of the States tax resistance nonsense.

4) Klauser and Stokes (working through SNOCO PRA) start Freedom and Skykomish secession groups inside of SNOCOPRA. There is 100% overlap, which is to say that the secession groups were subsets of the property rights stuff.

5) Skip Richards [a Whatcom County activist] immediately copies the secession groups in Whatcom with Pioneer and Independence county groups. Likewise, the (King County) Property Rights Alliance started up Cedar County. Again, key players were previous partners with [Wise Use founders Alan] Gottlieb and [Ron] Arnold, especially Ted Cowan.

6) All of the county secession groups are heavily interlinked with Posse and Christian Patriots. The major characters are Ben Hinkle in Whatcom and Ben Sams in Snohomish. Sams was part of John Trochmann's "United for Justice" group that Trochmann formed during the Weaver standoff. So the secession groups were also being used for militia recruiting.

Klauser's chief partner in organizing the Snohomish County secessionists was a local rabble-rouser named John Stokes, who ran an organization called the Freedom County Committee. Stokes later claimed he had gathered enough signatures to force a secession vote, but he vamoosed to Montana at about this time and the signatures were not submitted for several more months; when they finally were, the numbers validated didn't come close to meeting the requirement.

Of course, Stokes has continued to foment right-wing extremist politics in Montana, where he bought a radio station and began broadcasting the home addresses of local environmentalists, a la Radio Rwanda. His attacks on liberals are especially disturbing as potential precursors to similar attacks elsewhere.

One of Klauser's chief allies, a former Whatcom County BIAW official named Art Castle, went on to cofound a local Bellingham group that engaged in similar far-right recruitment. Castle now operates the Kitsap Home Builders Association listed as a local resource by the BIAW.

It was in Whatcom County that Castle and Hinkle's organizational work soon led to the formation of the Washington State Militia, whose career I describe in some detail in my first book, In God's Country (and is likewise told in Jane Kramer's excellent Lone Patriot). That group, you may recall, ended in complete collapse as a number of leaders and members were eventually convicted for their roles in a scheme to build and deploy pipe bombs.

In one of his appendices, deArmond explains how these local organizations provide the logistical traction for the national "Wise Use" program:
When we asked Ron Arnold about the secession movement, his recollection was that Jim Klauser -- exec.director of SNOCO PRA and founder of the Washington Property Rights Network -- was the first to tell him of the county secession movement:

"...the secession thing came up and I said, 'Come on, give me a break, are you kidding?' Because I didn't know anything about the legal structure for doing that. 'Is that legal?', 'Oh yes, the constitution has provisions for it.' 'Oh really!', so I read it."

Asked why he supported people like Klauser, Arnold said,

"Because I intend to win. I don't fight to lose. And because I know that movement theory is right, that if I help segments along, I'd create leaders. I help leaders. ...There are so many people doing what I need done, but I don't have to sit at their desk."

The situation goes much deeper than this, since Arnold is working at the top level of Wise Use. Below him and the other national Wise Use organizations is a middle level of regional trade associations, business groups and industry lobbying organizations. These groups, such as the Master Builders Association, the various county chapters of the Affordable Housing Council, the local Chambers of Commerce, and realtor's associations, provide the leadership and funding for creating front groups like the Property Rights Alliance, SNOCO PRA, Whatcom CLUE and other so-called grass-roots groups.

Organizations like the Building Industry Association of Washington represent, in many ways, the essential face of modern conservatism: their bottom line is money and power, by any means necessary.

This means playing a major role in electoral politics and political organizing, while also quietly encouraging the role of extremists within the broader mainstream of conservatism. They are, in effect, organizational "transmitters".

Their poisonous effects on the body politic are bad enough. Unfortunately, their toxicity also extends well into the natural world too.

Monday, January 30, 2006

My letter to Cantwell

Dear Sen. Cantwell:

I'm writing to explain why I won't be donating to your campaign.

Moreover, I'll add that I'm a journalist and blogger ( with a substantial readership. And I'll be urging them not to donate to your campaign either.

Your performance throughout the entirety of the Judiciary Committee's hearings on the appointment of Judge Alito was appallingly weak, particularly given Alito's extremist record regarding the expansion of executive-branch powers, let alone his appalling views regarding abortion and reproductive-privacy rights. You really capped it off with your failure to vote with Democrats' efforts to filibuster Alito's nomination.

I've really wanted to support you. Your efforts in the past year to put the brakes on the right's push into ANWR and the Magnuson Amendment were outstanding, if overdue. But Democrats need people in office who understand what we're dealing with when it comes to the conservative movement, people who understand that we're in a real fight. People who will fight when it counts.

History, I think, will demonstrate that with Alito, Democrats needed to fight, and fight hard. And you failed. You should have -- and could have -- been leading the charge in the Judiciary Committee, and throughout. As one of the few women senators, you could have been a real beacon of leadership. Instead, you ran and hid.

I'll vote for you, but not enthusiastically. In the meantime, I have limited dollars to spend on politics. I pick and choose where I donate carefully. And you just crossed yourself off my list.

Best of luck this fall. Hope you win. But you'll be doing it without support from me, and, I suspect, a lot of us.

David Neiwert

UPDATE: It seems that Cantwell lost her Judiciary Committee seat when Republicans regained the Senate majority in 2002. That portion of my criticism was inaccurate; however, it does not blunt my belief that Cantwell should have been helping lead the charge on Alito.

Part of my dismay regarding Cantwell, however, originates with her tenure on the Judiciary Committee (2001-02). She was unfortunately silent during the hearings on Ted Olson, and was snookered into voting for John Ashcroft.

UPDATE 2: Argh. I was mistaken about the Ashcroft vote -- Cantwell indeed voted against him. My apologies to the senator for implying otherwise. I think I'll go take some Ginkgo Biloba and lie down.